Austin leaders comment on Voting Rights Act court case

Austin leaders comment on Voting Rights Act court case

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On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the Shelby County vs. Holder case.

It challenges the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. It was meant to protect minorities from being discriminated against at the ballot box...something that was a major problem at the time especially in the southern states.

"Poll taxes, moving ballot boxes and voting places...a whole range of means that were attempted to keep blacks from voting, to make it hard for them to vote," said James Henson, Director of The Texas Politics Project at UT Austin.

Henson explains Section 5, the part that's being heavily debated.

"Any changes of any substantial nature to how elections were conducted had to be cleared by the Justice Department or the Federal Court," he said.

That's called preclearance.

Yannis Banks with the Texas NAACP points out two occasions where Texas violated the Voting Rights Act recently.

"From the court cases and even last session when they passed the Voter ID Act and the redistricting maps. I think they both were knocked out because they didn't get preclearance due to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it had discriminatory effect," Banks said.

Some of the act's detractors feel it's out of date.

"There's some people that just seem to feel that everything is good and we don't have any problems. They say we're post-racial, you know, we have President Obama elected so we're a post-racial society but you still see incidents -- Voter ID Act here, redistricting here where they said 'We can limit the vote and try to take away the vote.' I'm not sure why they want to. But we still see the evidence that it's needed," Banks said.

John Colyandro, Executive Director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute tells FOX 7 in this statement:

"America's progress on race relations is clear and unequivocal. Because of legal and cultural changes in the states, all voters have equal access to the ballot. Section V of the voting rights act has succeeded, and it's time that the nation's progress is recognized by restoring equal treatment of all states in their management of their elections," Colyandro wrote.

Professor Henson from UT says the Supreme Court may try to declare all of Section 5 unconstitutional or he says the more likely outcome is that they will say there's a defect in the way it's being applied and send it back to Congress for revision.

A ruling on this is expected in June.

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